Published June 13. 2013 4:00AM
In Fame's Temple, do you think there's a golden niche and a chiseled marble bust festooned with flowers honoring the person who conceptualized the strip mall?
Or is this ... this Strip Mall Inventor instead twirling on a barbecue rotisserie in the hottest fires of hell?
Well, I suppose it depends on how much you value dollar stores and nail salons.
And yet ... did you know some of the finest restaurants in the United States are located in strip malls? Juban's in Baton Rouge. Locanda Porto Fino in Santa Monica. Todd's Unique Dining Room in Henderson, Nevada, and Trattoria Grappolo in Santa Ynez, California ... just to name a representational few.
In that spirit, let me tell you this: in a strip mall in Norwich is a very fine restaurant. It's called Fat Cat Grill & Bar, and the food is not only really good, it's just a pleasant, clean, nicely designed place to hang out.
There are three distinct sections at Fat Cat. Facing Main Street is a small U-shaped bar with sports team pennants and two flat screen televisions suspended.
The main dining room is to the rear, divided by a large cutout with frosted glass. Everything's modern and airy, with booths lining three walls and tables in the center.
The high ceiling has two lower, partial-dropped ceilings carved in curvy patterns; they're respectively painted pumpkin, gold and gray. Pendant lamps hang over the booths in complementary tones, and both the bar and dining room are bordered one side by a narrow, covered outdoor patio.
Throughout, a variety of pieces of art depicting felines punctuates the "cat" motif of the restaurant's name.
Most folks in Norwich probably know that the Fat Cat has solid local DNA; the owners are the Nousiopoulos family, long remembered for the Olympic Pizza restaurant they owned across the street until 2008.
Two visits to Fat Cat were thoroughly pleasant and rewarding experiences.
From the appetizers section, we tried included Fresh Mozzarella ($7.99) and a special of the day, Coconut Shrimp ($8.95). The former consisted of two Texas Toast-sized slabs of mozz oozing out of its hand-breaded crust and served with a smoky, subtle marinara. This is great fun and - as we quickly learned about Fat Cat portions - a very generous serving.
Coconut shrimp is a problematic dish because a) folks tend to use too much batter and/or coconut and the subtle flavor of the shrimp gets overwhelmed. Similarly, the dipping sauce is frequently too sweet. The Cat People, though, have a judicious handle on the batter/coconut, and the innate taste of the six large butterflied crustaceans came through in fine balance. The sauce had some tang to it, and wedges of orange for squeezing purposes was a nice touch.
My wife Eileen ordered Eggplant Florentine ($10.99) and was rewarded with three huge cylinders of tender 'plant rolled around big portions of fresh spinach and crumbled feta - all covered in the aforementioned sauce and melted mozzarella.
"Fabu," Eileen said. Really: "Fabu." The dish came with (her choice of) cavatappi pasta and garlic bread.
Chicken Oscar ($16.99) was a terrific choice, boasting two large, boneless, moist breasts swimming in a perfectly balanced and irresistible lemon-butter sauce. The chicken also supported florets of broccoli and hunks of savory lobster claw meat in a layer of melted Mozzarella. These were five distinct flavors singing together like the Temptations, and I played with various combinations on each forkful, seeing which balance was the most fun.
On another day, we dropped by for lunch.
E asked for the Greek Quiche special ($9.95) and once again enjoyed spinach and feta, this time packed in a flaky quiche crust. It was a generous slice served with a good-sized salad that someone had put some thought into: mixed greens, fresh mushrooms, carrots, cucumbers, red onion, green pepper and tomato.
A grilled roast beef panini ($9.59) had a fine hunk of lean, juicy roast beef - actually sliced on site from an actual roast - and was accented by sharp cheddar and a maple-teased mustard. With fries, it was a terrific combination.
Finally, given the Fat Cat's ties to Olympic pizza, I had to sample a pie ($8.50): deep dish Greek style with shredded hamburger and black olives, plenty of cheese and just enough sauce for a piquant counterpoint. Much greatness.